Friday, 9 June 2017

Grow Your Own Watercress - On Your Fence!

Watercress growing in a recycled gutter attached to a fence
Watercress is a peppery and nutritious addition to summer salads and other recipes, and really easy to grow. However you use it, you wont get a better taste than if you've grown it yourself and just picked it moments before eating, so have a go at growing your own this summer. You can sow it right now. I thought I'd share with you how I'm growing mine this year, in recycled guttering on my garden fence!  


Let's start by clarifying - I'm not talking about the cress you grow in egg cups as a child. That's even easier, and a great way to get children started in gardening, but I'm on about the stuff you buy in sealed bags at the supermarket, often with baby spinach and rocket. Like rocket it has a peppery tang to it which makes an otherwise ordinary collection of salad leaves much more interesting.
 
It's also very good for you, apparently. Apart from contributing to the recommended 5 (or is it 10 now?) portions of fruit or veg a day, it is also reported to be rich in vitamins A and K, as well as various other compounds considered beneficial to our bodies. You can add it to salads, but you can also include it in sandwiches, soups, sauces and to add flavour to boiled potatoes and the like.
 
For the freshest possible watercress, grow your own in containers. You can use small pots on the windowsill, larger ones on the patio, or any other container you have available.
 
GREEN FINGERS TIP
GREEN FINGERS TIP: Just remember that watercress - yes you guessed it - is an aquatic plant, so water regularly. If you are growing in pots keep a saucer underneath with water in. In the wild, watercress grows in moving water, such as the edges of gently flowing streams, so it's used to water constantly running through the soil it's growing in.

I first saw watercress growing in the wild in the stream that passes Manorbier Castle in Pembrokeshire. It stuck in my mind because of what a beautiful and tranquil place it is with the stream subsequently running down the middle of the beach to the sea.

Rollin' down the river!
I did once get watercress seeds to germinate in the edge of our own stream but went off the idea of eating it after seeing some of the things thrown in further up the hill. The next step was to find another way to recreate those natural conditions of constantly flowing water and I think I've done it!
 
 
 
 
If you've visited the Green Fingered Blog before you might have noticed my tendency to reuse things that are around rather than buy something new, and this was also another opportunity for recycling. You may even recognise the guttering I've used, which has now been given a third life! If not, read on and click the link two paragraphs time!
 
So here's how I did it:
 
I took some spare plastic guttering left over from the garden shed, and cut it to the right length to fit the space on the fence I wanted to use to grow watercress. A bit of sun helps but it doesn't really suit it to be in the full glare of summer sun all day as this will dry it out too much. This fence actually faces North, but has gaps which allow light through.
 
 
I bought a couple of extra end pieces and joining sections to complete my design. I already had downpipes to allow water to drain off at the ends. I pieced them together on the floor. You could make any layout that you like and that will fit your space, just as for the children's water play feature in an earlier post. I also already had brackets to clip around the gutters. These have holes in so that you can screw them to the fence. If you are using joining pieces to connect short lengths together to make a longer one, these pieces also usually have holes too. 
 
I opted for two levels, the top one feeding water to the second one. I had some downpipe spare so used this to feed water from the end of the second level into a container of strawberries below. You don't need a long downpipe if you haven't got one, the water will simply drip out of a short one anyway, and only slowly. I held them up to the fence to mark where the screws were needed. I was aiming for a very gradual slope so that any water is kept moving through the soil.
 
Watercress growing in a recycled gutter fixed to a garden fenceOnce the gutters were fixed to the fence, I put a couple of crocks across the holes to the downpipes to stop the compost sliding through. I filled the gutters with compost and  sowed seeds in a drill down the centre of part of the gutters. I planted out seedlings I had grown earlier indoors in the other part. I find watercress germinates easily as long as it's warm. It's no good sowing it in February unless in a heated greenhouse or the kitchen windowsill. But by early May it usually comes up quickly. 


Sowing in a drill allowed me to identify that the thousands of tiny seedlings coming up on either side were the dandelions that blew on to the compost the minute it was put in! I gently ruffled many of them out of place but didn't want to disturb the watercress seedlings, so didn't spend too long on this.
 
Watercress growing in a recycled gutter fixed to a garden fenceI've watered during dry periods by gently running the watering can along the gutter, and the slope should keep the water moving through. It seems to be working as we are now harvesting watercress whenever we feel like it. And the maturest of the seedlings now have leaves much bigger than the ones in pots in the kitchen, so the slightly more natural position seems to be paying off. I even set a new personal best for the shortest time from plot to plate, since it is now possible to pick watercress leaves without even leaving my seat on the patio!
 
Let me know if you are growing watercress or anything else in a particularly interesting place. And what is your record time from plot to plate?! Get in touch using the comments box below, my Facebook page, or twitter. And if you enjoyed this post then please share it - just click on one of the buttons just below - and make sure you enter your email at the top of this page to make sure you get my next update. I look forward to hearing from you!

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